Fabio was a member of one of the three gangs in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. He never talks about what he did exactly, but he ended up in jail for almost four years. When he got out, he knew that he would never be able to get a regular job. His only choice was to get back into gang life. Even though this provided him with plenty of money, he knew this was not what he wanted with his life. What kind of example would he be to his kids? Would they end up living the same life as everybody else in the favela, where gangsters are the only ‘role model’?
When Fabio was offered the opportunity to work for a charity, he said yes and left the gang. The charity organized soccer games for kids in the favela; giving them something to do and dream of becoming a soccer player instead of a gangster. Fabio earned much less than he was used to, but he knew this was the right thing to do. Then the Dutch guy running the charity died and the project stopped. Fabio was without a job, without any money and desperate. His only option seemed to be to get back into his ’old’ life, but he did not want to. He decided to continue running the charity project, without any money or connections. He struggled immensely. But he persevered.
When I met Fabio three years ago, he did not speak a word of English. He took me on an adrenaline-filled motorcycle tour of the favelas to show me his project. He introduced me to his friends who were still in the gangs, invited me for lunch in the restaurant where he used to count heaps of money at the plastic table, showed me the street kids, sometimes no older than 8, walking around the favela with automatic weapons… What a contrast with ‘his’ kids, playing soccer on the improvised field, some not even wearing shoes, who were relaxed, laughing, playing, finally being kids again.
I was back in Rio during Cruse your Business 2018 and I asked Fabio to guide my group of 14 entrepreneurs through ‘his’ favela. To my surprise, Fabio spoke English! He had studied very hard, all by himself; listening to English music and movies. Even though he was still struggling financially, his family had adopted a baby boy, who was an orphan after his mom died of drugs. Fortunately, Fabio is getting some support from another small charity working in the favela. He had even been offered a ‘storytelling’ course in The Netherlands, where he had also been interviewed on TV and spoke in various prisons. I asked him what he found most surprising about The Netherlands and, without hesitation, he said ‘the prisons! They are like hotels! Prisoners have their own room, TV, games, a gym, and they can even choose what they want to eat!” In Brazil, they had put 90 people in a cell designed for 30 people, so his situation had been very different.
Fabio instructed my group not to take any pictures. And walked us through ‘his’ favela. Within minutes, we saw weapons everywhere! A revolver on the belt of a friendly guy, welcoming ‘Fabio’s friends’ to the favela. Automatic weapons casually displayed on the bench next to the three young guys ‘lounging’ at a bus stop. And the huge rifle carried by a guy in shorts on a motorbike, cruising the streets to intimidate.
“If you hear fireworks” Fabio instructed us, “that means the police is coming. The gangs have young boys on the lookout who start the fireworks as a warning when they see police. It might seem quiet here, but that can change any minute. The police usually don’t enter the favela’s and when they do, it means trouble.” He explained that in The Netherlands we consider the police to be our friend, but in Brazil, most police are corrupt and dangerous.
Fabio organized some motor taxis to take us to a church on top of the hill for a beautiful view. Nobody had time to think if this was a good idea and climbed on the bikes. We all had the time of our life, riding through the busy streets and crazy traffic.
Everybody loved to see the contrasts: the breathtaking views of Rio from the various viewpoints, life in the favela, hot, poor, filled with crime and weapons. We felt hope seeing his projects and especially meeting guys like Fabio making a difference for himself, his family and the lives of the people around him. And as a bonus, we had a great lunch and an amazing experience during the motorbike ride.
People like Fabio – and his projects – need our support. And if you ever come to Rio, you want this special, personal favela tour! So when you – or somebody you know – is heading to Rio, please contact Fabio Rondinelli and ask him to guide you. It will not only change your life, but it will help Fabio to change the lives of many.